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Where to get a drink in the Middle East

Kurdish officials have already said that the alcohol ban will not affect Kurdistan [TNA]

Date of publication: 24 October, 2016

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A decision by the Iraqi parliament to ban the sale, import and production of alcohol, has put the country in the ranks of other Middle East states to ban booze.

With the surprise decision by Iraqi lawmakers to ban the sale, import and production of alcohol, the war-torn country joins the ranks of other Middle Eastern states to prohibit booze.

The new legislation banning drinks was passed in a last minute motion from influential Shia Islamist parties on Saturday.

However, the decision has angered both religious minorities and secular Muslims alike.

The land of the two rivers has a long history with intoxicants; some of the first written records of beer come from ancient Iraq, where workers building the city of Uruk were paid in the drink.

There is also a tradition of poetry in praise of wine and arak - the traditional alcoholic spirit of Iraq and the Levant - composed by Muslim poets.

Kurdish officials have already said that the alcohol ban will not affect the Kurdistan region, where a sizeable Christian community lives. Some lawmakers have said they will appeal at the high federal court.

Other Muslim-majority countries have had laws restricting drinking for years. Part of the reason is that Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, but only a few countries in the region enforce total bans.

Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's two holiest sites, famously makes it illegal for anyone to produce, import, sell and consume alcohol. The blanket ban, however, has not been successful in eradicating the habit.

Many expatriates and locals in the kingdom brew their own homemade spirits known as "sadiqi" ("my friend"), which is basically moonshine, while illegally imported bottles of liquor can readily be bought from illegal dealers.

The only other Gulf state to have a total ban on alcohol is Kuwait, which has been in force since 1964 when the country's first parliament introduced the legislation.

     
      Some lawmakers have said they will appeal at the
high federal court [Getty]

In the United Arab Emirates, considered to one of the more liberal of Gulf states, expats can obtain permits to buy alcohol from designated liquor stores for private consumption, though alcohol is also freely available in hotels and pubs. In the Emirate of Sharjah, it is completely illegal to drink.

In Qatar, alcohol is available at hotels and bars and can be purchased by expats through a permit system. Similarly, in Oman, residents can get a licence to drink at home and at hotels and restaurants.

It gets a bit more complicated when in Yemen, which is officially a dry country. However, alcohol can be drunk on private property and can be sold to foreigners in hotels and seedy nightclubs in Sanaa and Aden.

On the other hand, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia have no such restrictions and alcohol is freely available in restaurants, bars and shops.

In Africa, Sudan operates under Islamic law and alcohol is strictly not permitted. The constitution, however, specifies that in Khartoum non-Muslims are not subjected to Sharia law.

Gaddafi banned alcohol in Libya shortly after coming to power in 1969, and in Mauritania the sale and consumption of alcohol are against the law.

The new law in Iraq has actually made its alcohol laws more conservative than its neighbour Iran, which grants religious minorities the right to brew their own hard stuff at home.

Do you think the ban will work in Iraq or will the market just go underground? Let us know in the comments.

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